The social context of nearest neighbors shapes educational attainment regardless of class origin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We study the association between sociospatial neighborhood conditions throughout childhood and educational attainment in adulthood. Using unique longitudinal microdata for a medium-sized Swedish town, we geocode its population at the address level, 1939 to 1967, and link individuals to national registers, 1968 to 2015. Thus, we adopt a long-term perspective on the importance of nearby neighbors during a period when higher education expanded. Applying a method for estimating individual neighborhoods at the address level, we analyze the association between the geographically weighted social class of the nearest 6 to 100 childhood neighbors (ages 2 to 17), and the likelihood of obtaining a university degree by age 40, controlling for both family social class and school districts. We show that even when growing up in a town with relatively low economic inequality, the social class of the nearest same-age neighbors in childhood was associated with educational attainment, and that the associations were similar regardless of class origin. Growing up in low-class neighborhoods lowered educational attainment; growing up in high-class neighborhoods increased attainment. Social class and neighborhoods reinforced each other, implying that high-class children clustered with each other had much higher odds of obtaining a university degree than low-class children from low-class neighborhoods. Thus, even if all groups benefited from the great expansion of free higher education in Sweden (1960s to 1970s), the large inequalities between the classes and neighborhoods remained unchanged throughout the period. These findings show the importance of an advantageous background, both regarding the immediate family and the networks of nearby people of the same age.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Economic History


  • Neighborhood, Inequality, Education attainment, Geography, Geographic Information System (GIS), microlevel
Original languageEnglish
Article number201922532
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2020 Jun 15
Publication categoryResearch

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